Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism
No. 17 1 February 2004 / 9 Shevat 5764
Language as a Tool against Jews and Israel
An Interview with Georges-Elia Sarfati
Discourses are formulated on the basis of ideological views. The idea that speech is transparent is a belief rather than a scientific fact.
When analyzing Judeophobia, one finds an archive of words to be used against the Jew, which aims to criminalize all forms of Jewish identity.
Soviet propaganda began using the term "anti-Zionism" systematically after the Six Day War. Before then, it was employed, at most, sporadically.
From the point of view of language, anti-Zionism has become an ideology. A number of key equations dominate its discourse. The master one is "Zionism equals Nazism."
The False Belief that Language is Neutral
"Most people think that language, and in particular speech, is transparent and that it serves to transmit information. This is a belief rather than a scientific fact. People have ideological views on the basis of which they formulate a discourse. Language has a history, which has led to the words used being charged ones. Rather than words being neutral, they serve to introduce a certain vision of the question one addresses.
"This is particularly clear in the case of anti-Semitism and its manifestations, including anti-Zionism. When analyzing the various phenomena of Judeophobia, one discovers an archive of words used against the Jew. These words aim to criminalize all forms of Jewish identity: spiritually as religious anti-Judaism; culturally as anti-Semitism, and socio-politically as anti-Zionism."
Georges-Elia Sarfati, a professor of linguistics in France, has researched this relationship between opinion and discourse. He demonstrates how loaded language is by examining the expression "anti-Zionism" as an example. In his book The Captive Nation,1 about the Jews in the Soviet Union, he devotes many pages to the analysis of how anti-Zionism emerges as an ideology.
"It was the Soviet Union's ministry of information which began to use the expression 'anti-Zionism' systematically after the Six Day War. In addition to being employed in the Soviet press, it then also was appearing regularly in the media of the French extreme left. Prior to that, the word's use was sporadic, at most. It did not appear in dictionaries until the 1970s. Anti-Zionism's major 'canonic' texts are first and foremost Soviet fabrications. One of the Supreme Soviet's ideologists, Trofim Kitchko, published several anti-Semitic books between 1963 and the beginning of the 1980s. His first one, Judaism Unembellished, was sponsored by the Academy of Sciences.
"Marxism had negated the idea of Jewish sovereignty; Stalinism radicalized this view. Propaganda techniques of the Nazis were recycled by the Soviets. When parts of the Arab world were influenced by the Soviet Union, their propaganda apparatus appropriated itself of the anti-Zionist discourse.
"Third worldism has also appropriated itself of the anti-Zionist discourse. This movement is characterized by an ideological and political commitment toward the world's poorer countries and also supports revolutionary action. Third worldism has developed its own linguistic arms, which derive from Marxist ideology.
"They enabled Marxists to renovate no longer fashionable claims and to find a new echo for them in Europe, where they are promoted by so-called progressives, i.e., Maoists and Trotskyites. This was followed by another linguistic construction in which Palestinian claims against Israel are being redefined in the terminology of third worldism.
"From the point of view of language, anti-Zionism thus becomes a tool to federate and create coalitions of extremely diverging opinions. This sociological phenomenon, which developed over half a century, has by now become an 'ideology' - a system of ideas, which has permeated various specific groups in society."
Anti-Zionism's Key Equations
Sarfati develops this concept in detail in his book Anti-Zionism.2 He gives many examples in this book of how anti-Zionism gives a macabre and scandalous vision of the Jewish national movement.
Sarfati says: "A number of key equations dominate the anti-Zionist discourse. The master one - which transversally commands all others - is 'Zionism equals Nazism.' The various types of anti-Israel propaganda have circulated and repeated it endlessly. It could only permeate society because of the latter's anti-Semitic infrastructure. It then further developed into a series of related falsifications such as 'Israel uses in the Middle East toward the Palestinians, "the final solution" which was applied against the Jews in Europe'; or 'Israel has invented Auschwitz to receive its dividends.'
"A second equation was derived from the first: 'Israel equals racism.' This is based on historical notions about racism. One only has to replace the word 'blacks' with 'Palestinians' in the statement: 'blacks are second class citizens in their own country.' Other variants are 'Israel practices segregation,' 'Israel conducts an Apartheid policy' or 'the territories are Bantustans.'
"The American linguist Noam Chomsky - a Jewish Israel-hater - has played a major role in the development of this terminology. He wishes to dissolve Israel in a bi-national state. His anti-Zionism is part of his anti-Americanism. For about forty years now he has maintained that Israel is an instrument of American politics. His pseudo-radical theories are based on the 'victimology' concept claiming that non-Westerners are eternal victims of imperialism. Earlier, the Jewish philosopher Hanna Arendt had developed a negative concept of Zionism, which is also often quoted by contemporary radical movements.
"A third equation, which is also derived from the first one, is 'Zionism is colonialism.' It is accompanied by a fourth one: 'Zionism is imperialism.' These were circulated frequently during the Vietnam War. In French memory, the last equation is associated with the war in Algeria. It expresses itself as 'Israel colonizes the Palestinian territories' or 'Israel is like France in Algeria.' Thereafter, these four distinct equations can be synthesized into one: the 'Zionist, fascist, racist and colonial state.'"
Sarfati says that one has to realize the strategic effectiveness of this attack. "These equivalencies are so evil because they attach the four major negative characteristics of Western history in the last century - Nazism, racism, colonialism and imperialism - to the State of Israel. They relate to a collective memory and are easily memorized.
"The anti-Zionist propaganda conveys that you only have to be, for instance, against Nazism - and who is not? - to be an anti-Zionist. The language of these pseudo-equations and pseudo-equivalences supports every initiative hostile to Zionism and turns it into an act of progressiveness and humanism."
Anti-Zionism's Arsenal of Words
Sarfati explains how the anti-Zionist ideology - beyond the above equations - has by now developed an arsenal of recognizable expressions, some of which even appear in different forms: "Occupied territories," "the settlements," "Jewish settlers," "Israel's intransigence," "Israel, theocratic and militarist state," "Solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people," "The massacres of Sabra and Shatila," "Zionist propaganda," "Arabs are second-rate citizens in Israel," "Jews have taken the land of the Arabs," "Israel is the instrument of Western imperialism in the region," "Israel leads a policy of Apartheid," "Tsahal's crimes," "The Nazi methods of Tsahal," "bombarding refugee camps," "the massacre of Jenin," "the genocide of the Palestinian people" and "The Holocaust of the Jewish people does not justify the genocide of the Palestinian people."
"The work of the new Israeli historians has served the anti-Zionist propaganda in a simplified form. Benny Morris - one of them - shows that most Palestinian refugees left of their own volition. The Israelis expelled a smaller number - in a non-systematic way - in the framework of the war. The anti-Zionists have managed to convince large segments of public opinion that the expulsion of the Palestinians was a systematic practice of the Zionist movement. Also, here, language plays a major role in the ideological discourse. The anti-Zionist left speaks about 'the criminal origins of the state of Israel and the nature of Zionism' or 'Zionism's original sin.'
"If one tries to summarize this, the conclusion must be: 'the less Israel, the more peace.' Anti-Zionism prepares - through the almost mechanical use of a limited number of expressions - the death of the Jewish State. This ideology does so in two stages; first, by deforming the country's image. The obsessive use of the different expressions aims to make Israel illegitimate and prepares for the second stage: its ritual death.
"This anti-Zionist discourse has been, by now, so often repeated that it can be used autonomously; i.e., the content of its expressions no longer has to be verified. That makes it efficient. Anti-Zionism has also removed the substance of history and builds on amnesia. The history of anti-Zionism remains silent about what happened before 1948. It starts with Palestinian history.
"By using these methods it rejoins the earlier major century-long forms of anti-Semitism: the religious/spiritual and the socio/ethnical/cultural. In each of these cases the Judeophobic process has three stages: creation of the discriminating identity, isolation of the Jews and then their destruction."
"To better understand this process one has to realize that in language, the same stereotypes frequently appear in the three forms of Judeophobia. A major one is the Jew presented as a devilish character. In order to understand the theological terminology, one must go back to the etymology of diabolos. This word in Greek means not only the devil, in his personalized form as he appears in popular images, but also 'the one who divides.' Thus the Jew - as the anti-Semite represents him - divides the world. He is a perturbing element of the proper order. This devilish, dividing and disassociating element is also accompanied by other characteristics such as cunning and betrayal.
"In political anti-Semitism, the process used in religious anti-Semitism was repeated. The Jew was presented as an element of decomposition and dissolution of national identity, a disrupter of social order, an agent of the destruction of Christian, respectively secular values. The propaganda said that Jews use universal values in order to corrupt what Christian civilization had achieved.
"The fluidity and plasticity of all this evil is then translated by stressing the transnational and trans-historic character of Judaism. The next step in the process is developing the myth of the conspiracy theory, which is translated in the current defamation. In actual terms that means Zionism is the avant-garde of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy. This mythology is recycled in contemporary political terminology.
"In the case of anti-Zionism, the same devilish element takes new forms, feeding on the ongoing representation of the negative and damaging character of Zionism. This is then translated into political slogans, with equations and equivalencies. Thus, Zionism is associated with all that Western history considers negative: Nazism, imperialism, colonialism and racism in its many forms, among them, South African apartheid."
How to React?
When asked how Jews and their allies should relate to the discourse, Sarfati quotes from his book: "This Judeophobia...should be judged as a pornographic vision: the speakers, listeners and those who watch it, all enjoy it." He points out that one should not fall into the trap by starting to respond to one's enemies' arguments.
"If the anti-Zionist says the Zionist state is a fascist or a Nazi state, it would be mistaken to answer 'How could you say such a thing? Israel has been the victim of fascism.' That will only lead to the anti-Zionist's next slogan: 'The victims have become perpetrators.' Entering into such debates is useless.
"One can reply that by using the equation 'Zionism is fascism' the anti-Zionist has become a successor of Hitler's tradition. His slogan says Zionism and Israel are the movers of the absolute evil. It recycles what the Nazis said about the Jews. Racism dehumanizes a certain segment of humanity in order to justify its expulsion before its destruction. The latter is then covered up as a goal of public health." Sarfati explains: "In this way, language serves the perfect crime. That is why the anti-Zionist discourse hardly speaks about Zionism, but is very telling about anti-Zionists."
Anti-Zionism's Historical Linkage
Sarfati further explains the historical linkage of anti-Zionism to earlier societal perceptions of the Jews promoted by their enemies. "Anti-Zionism draws from a matrix which has been developed over the centuries in theological and political anti-Semitism. Now, instead of the Jew, the state of Israel becomes the carrier of how Jews intend to develop their conspiracy and of worldwide domination. In France, one finds this today in the theories of the extreme right wing National Front party and its leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. It existed already before the Second World War in the ideology of the Action Francaise led by Charles Maurras.
"Both start from an ethnic concept of the nation. 'Frenchness' is defined as being born in France and being Catholic. This is very different from how modern nations define themselves as being bound together by a social contract. For some time the extreme right thought the state of Israel - based on an ethnic homogeneity - would be their ally. But they have since given up this illusion.
"What the extreme right hates in the Jews is that they have been favorable to the political revolutions which have made them equal citizens. One of anti-Semitism's major characteristics is its rejection of the emancipation of individuals. Anti-Zionism in this perspective can be defined as a radicalization of the nineteenth century anti-Semitic refusal of Jewish equality. It is the ideology of refusing the Jews to be a collectivity, the principle of allowing them national sovereignty."
Loaded Words: Jew, State, Nation, People
"This brings us back once again to language and words. The definitions of words such as "Jew," "state," "nation" and "people" are not neutral. The Jews are presented in language as a theological and symbolic entity which cannot become a nation. Why would the people of the book need to be a nation to prove that it is the people of the book? The theological political presentation of the Jews leads to such thoughts.
"The French sociologist Shmuel Trigano has clearly pointed out the inherent contradiction in the French emancipation of the Jews in the beginning of the nineteenth century. In France, after the revolution, a place was made for the Jewish individual, but not for the Jewish nation or the Jewish community. The parliamentarian Clermont Tonnerre declared at the time: 'Everything for the Jews as individuals; nothing for them as a nation.' It was a precondition of this emancipation that the Jews would see the other Frenchmen as their brothers, and would renounce their national identity.
In his book Common Discourse and Jewish Identity,3 Sarfati analyzes the representation of the Jews and Judaism in dictionaries and encyclopedias from the Middle Ages through the twentieth century. "In dictionaries the word 'Jew,' is usually described as 'a descendant of Abraham and the heir of the Mosaic law.' This is the biblical definition accepted by Christianity. Through this, the expression 'the Jewish state' is thus immediately associated with an archaic fact. Language tricks one into this by linking it to Western history and the Western perception of the Jew. These are psycho-linguistic mechanisms. There is much to be said that these may be more important for identity than philosophical, political or doctrinaire expressions.
"Once this perception of the Jews has been built into language, it leads to negation, by saying the Jews are a religion and not a people. One finds examples of the latter in the charters of the PLO, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or in the political programs of the militant anti-Zionists in the Western world, including Maoists, Trotskyites and other extreme leftists. Language is used to reaffirm the refusal of the state of Israel. By understanding the language one understands the symbols the Jews' enemies use."
Linguistics Links with Other Disciplines
Sarfati explains how linguistics links with other disciplines such as psychology and theology. "The bad conscience of the West expresses itself in the form of a discourse. In its first stage it wants to repurchase its guilt for having permitted the Shoah through tolerating the creation of the state of Israel. In a second stage, the West wants to liberate itself from the Shoah and responsibility for it by singling out Israel as the source of a new oppression.
"Through an analysis of language we can see that Europe, specifically, has been the main supplier of what it now reproaches - Zionism. Europe created Nazism, totalitarianism, racism and colonialism. Linguistically, we see what we might call a 'displacement,' or in psychological terms, 'projection.' All these traumatizing elements in Europe's history are redirected toward Israel.
"Theologically speaking, this recalls the mechanism of the scapegoat. The latter is loaded with everybody's sins, and then expunged. This biblical gesture is taken over by anti-Zionism. With all its verbal violence it constructs a despicable image of the state of Israel."
Language and Politics
"Language cannot be seen in isolation from politics. The anti-Zionist propaganda in the specific case of France, also serves the country's ideological interest to please, by its external and internal politics, both the Arab world and the large Arab-Muslim population which now lives in the country. At the same time, the Arab-Muslim populations find their identity in contesting the Jewish population.
"One of the typical spokesmen of this ideology is a former consultant of the Socialist Party, Pascal Boniface. He has advised it to become more susceptible to adopt pro-Palestinian positions because there are many more Arab voters in France than Jewish voters. If one substitutes in his approach the word 'Jew' for the word 'Israel,' one can read his text as a recycled anti-Semitic one of the nineteenth century.
"Another example of the same are Jews who are so de-Judaized that in order to 'normalize' their discourse, they interpret Jewish history in the Western framework of thought. Only then can they define Judaism as a dimension of imperialism as if Jews are a dimension of Western history. In France - as far as I know - we have never had a proper analysis of Jewish self-hate. We find an artificial universalism among self-hating Jewish intellectuals who express this in anti-Zionism.
"This is pathetic because Judaism defines universalism in a more authentic way than these so-called progressives, who reproach Israel its 'particularism.' While Judaism expects Jews to obey the laws of the Torah, all others humans should keep the Noahide laws, which include the prohibition of murder and incest. This is a peaceful universalism, admitting cultural diversity, which is different from the Western aim of unification through uniformity."
Sarfati has analyzed the linguistics of many other subjects relevant to Judaism. In his book on anti-Zionism, he shows how newspapers use language against Israel in conjunction with journalistic and typographic methods. In this way the desirable information from the paper's ideological point of view is typographically enlarged, for instance, by placing it in headlines as well as through comments. The 'undesirable' information, however, is put in the text and mentioned on less important pages.
The Vatican and the Shoah
Sarfati's book The Vatican and the Shoah4 deals with the linguistic analysis of an official document of the Catholic Church on the Shoah, entitled "We Remember: a Reflection on the Shoah," published in 1998. "If one analyzes this text one finds that its language is used to turn the Shoah into a theological event rather than what it really is. It uses the Hebrew word 'Shoah,' however, interpreting it in the terminology of the most traditional Catholic dogmatism.
"The Vatican treats the Shoah - as is suggested at the beginning of the official document - as if Providence has returned into society. In the foreword by Pope Jean Paul II, it says that the event can be interpreted on two levels: the first, the limited profane knowledge; the second, the impenetrable designs of Providence. As if after the Shoah, the Jews are no longer guilty of deicide because they, in turn, now have massively paid with their lives.
"In this document, the memory of the Shoah is also used to devote a few words to the massacre of the Armenians, the multiple victims in the Ukraine in the 1930s, the genocide of the gypsies and similar tragedies which took place in the Americas, Africa and the Balkans. In addition, the millions of victims of totalitarian ideologies in the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia, as well as elsewhere, are mentioned. In this way, the Catholic Church presents itself as a champion of human rights, and in particular, the most basic one, which is the right to life.
"From there, the document moves to an implicit evaluation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is called 'a drama,' where still many humans are victims of their brothers. If one reads this text which is influenced by the stereotypes which have permeated Western society, it is not difficult to make the association that the victims of yesterday - the Jews - are the perpetrators of today (the Israelis)."
Sarfati concludes that far too little attention has been given to psycho-linguistic aspects of the fight against Israel. These merit a much deeper enquiry than just looking at the conflict from a political, philosophical or theological viewpoint.
1. Georges-Elia Sarfati, La Nation Captive, sur la question juive en URSS (Paris: Nouvelle Cite, 1985) [French].
2. Georges-Elia Sarfati, L'antisionisme, Israel/Palestine aux miroirs d'Occident (Paris: Berg International, 2002) [French].
3. Georges-Elia Sarfati, Discours ordinaires et identites juives (Paris: Berg International, 1999) [French).
4. Georges-Elia Sarfati, Le Vatican et la Shoah: ou comment l'Eglise s'absout de son passe (Paris: Berg International, 2000) [French].
Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld
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Georges-Elia Sarfati is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Clermont Ferrand in France and carries out research at the CNRS, the French national center for scientific research. Previously he taught at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of a number of books which deal with the analysis of the relationships between discourse, politics and ideology.
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This publication was partly supported by the Fondation pour la Memoire de la Shoah.
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